Andy Schooler previews this week’s action on the ATP Tour, which includes Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic’s return in Dubai.
Recommended bets: ATP Tour tennis
1pt e.w. Jiri Lehecka in the Dubai Duty Free Championships at 28/1 (Betfred 1/3 1,2)
0.5pt e.w. Alex de Minaur in the Abierto Mexicano Telcel at 40/1 (Unibet, BetUK)
0.5pt e.w. Marcos Giron in the Abierto Mexicano Telcel at 75/1 (Unibet, BetUK)
1pt e.w. Albert Ramos-Vinolas in the Movistar Chile Open at 20/1 (Betfred 1/2 1,2)
Dubai Duty Free Championships
- Dubai, UAE (outdoor hard)
It’s been quite a couple of weeks for the favourites.
At time of writing, the last five ATP events have been won by the jollies with Carlos Alcaraz looking highly likely to extend that to six in Rio.
With Novak Djokovic in this week’s field in Dubai, there’s every chance another favourite will go in this week and, as ever, it would take a brave man to take him on.
Despite a hamstring problem sustained in the early rounds, Djokovic rather cantered to the Australian Open title last month where it really looked as if no-one had the ability – or belief – to beat him.
Of course, Djokovic has an extraordinary record in Melbourne – that was his 10th success there – but he’s been pretty solid over the years here too, capturing the title on five occasions, most recently in 2020.
It’s hardly surprising to see the Serb no bigger than 5/6 but while it’s easy to make a strong case for him, my natural inclination is to be wary of backing anyone to win a tennis tournament at odds-on.
The obvious worry is the month Djokovic has had away from the match court; indeed he admitted last week that he wasn’t quite back to 100% intensity yet.
A decent early draw should give him the chance to play himself in though – it’s Tomas Machac first up, followed up Tallon Griekspoor or Constant Lestienne.
There are others in his half who do have the ability to push the world number one though.
Potential quarter-final foe Hubert Hurkacz will arrive fresh from a title triumph in Marseille and he made the semis here 12 months ago.
Then there’s Daniil Medvedev possibly awaiting in the last four. He is returning to something like his best form but, having won back-to-back titles in Rotterdam and Doha, is he fresh enough to achieve the very rare feat of three ATP titles in as many weeks?
For those looking to take on Djokovic with a big-priced outsider, you could do worse than Borna Coric, who has three times been to the semi-finals in Dubai.
Coric, who blows very hot and cold, is 50/1 this week, although anyone backing last year’s Cincinnati Masters champion should do so knowing he withdrew from Doha last week still suffering from a hip injury.
However, given a Djokovic win looks by far the most likely outcome, my plan of attack here is to seek out the finalist from the bottom half of the draw, albeit layers are only paying a third of the odds for a place in the final given Djokovic’s odds-on status.
The man those layers expect to make the final is Felix Auger-Aliassime but the Canadian has struggled to replicate his form of last autumn since the restart and while he did make the semis last week in nearby Doha, he was beaten in straight sets by Medvedev.
While the DecoTurf II courts here tend to play slightly faster than Doha, you still have the problem of conditions slowing in the evenings so scheduling can play a significant part.
Andrey Rublev, the defending champion, is another whose form means I‘m happy to overlook him – he’s gone 1-2 since the Australian Open and doesn’t have an easy draw here with Filip Krajinovic and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina looking tricky opponents in the opening two rounds.
Then could come Karen Khachanov.
He’s a player I’m interested in seeing this week, his first in tournament action since his semi-final run at the Australian Open.
If he replicates that sort of form, he’ll have a chance here but how likely is that?
After his US Open SF showing last September, Khachanov failed to reach the last four at any tournament until Melbourne, while his six visits here have produced just one quarter-final appearance.
I’d want more than 14/1 to get with him this week.
Instead I’m going try again with JIRI LEHECKA, who was the latest in a long line of agonising semi-final losers for this column in Doha last week – and even by our standards his failure was quite something.
The Czech blew five match points in the ‘money match’ against Andy Murray, with three of them coming with him serving up 5-4, 40-0 in the deciding set.
Clearly such a defeat has the potential to leave lasting scars but if you are prepared to put that aside, there’s plenty to like about Lehecka.
He’s clearly playing well having beaten Rublev during last week’s run, one which followed on from his quarter-final showing at the Australian Open where seeds Coric, Cam Norrie and Auger-Aliassime were all seen off.
He’s now 10-3 at all levels in 2023 and shouldn’t be fearing an opening-round encounter with Alex Zverev, who lost again in the first round last week as he continues to find his feet following his six-month injury lay-off.
With Lehecka playing well and already tuned into the Middle Eastern conditions, I think he’s the value pick in the bottom section with Betfred going 28/1 about his chances. Others are at 25s.
Abierto Mexicano Telcel
- Acapulco, Mexico (outdoor hard)
This will be the 10th edition of this tournament since it switched from the clay to hardcourts and the past decade has shown it has something for everyone.
On what is a fairly slow Solflex surface, baseline battlers like David Ferrer have won there, while big servers have also been able to cut through with Nick Kyrgios and Alex Zverev among the list of champions.
Carlos Alcaraz will bid to keep the title in Spanish hands following Rafael Nadal triumph of 12 months ago and he’s been chalked up as the favourite.
However, while he’s made an impressive return to the tour over the past fortnight, winning the title in Buenos Aires before finishing runner-up in Rio on Sunday, I can’t see why anyone would want to back him, even at 5/1, this week.
He was clearly struggling with a leg injury in the Rio final and afterwards revealed it was the same issue which forced him out of the Australian Open earlier in the year.
It would be no surprise to see the Spaniard withdraw, particularly given there was two Masters 1000 events coming up in March.
Even if he does start, Alcaraz will be moving off his favoured clay – on which it should be remembered he did lose sets in four of his nine matches over the past fortnight – and onto hardcourts which is another hurdle to overcome.
Only twice in the past decade has a player have won three ATP titles in as many weeks so history is also against Alcaraz.
He looks very much a lay this week.
Taylor Fritz, runner-up in 2020, also occupies the top half of the draw and isn’t far behind Alcaraz in the most markets – Unibet actually now have him as their jolly.
He has that big serve that has helped others to the title here in the past and arrives a week after winning the title on outdoor hard in Delray Beach.
However, the draw has handed him a tough first-round match against John Isner – his fellow American leads their head-to-head series 3-2 and has also been to the semi-finals twice here in the past.
That match could boil down to a handful of points and so I’ve no interest in backing Fritz outright at 5/1.
Isner, runner-up in Dallas recently, is tempting at 80/1 but for a long shot in this section I think it’s worth throwing some loose change at MARCOS GIRON at 75s.
He’s played well so far this season, reaching the quarter-finals at three of his five tournaments. In Auckland, he took a set off Cameron Norrie in defeat, while in Dallas he pushed Fritz the distance.
OK, that marquee win is notable by its absence there but Giron will doubtless remember victory over top-20 star Pablo Carreno Busta en route to the last eight in Acapulco in 2022 when losing to Stefanos Tsitsipas was no disgrace.
If we’re honest, another loss to a big name is probably how this ends for Giron but then again he’s in the same quarter as Alcaraz, whose bid I’ve already picked holes in, and Tommy Paul, a player crushed by Radu Albot last time out and one Giron has beaten on three of the four occasions they’ve met.
At the price, I think Giron is worth a try.
Moving onto the bottom half and I was very tempted to back the aforementioned Norrie.
The Solflex suits his game perfectly and that’s reflected in his results on it – he was runner-up to Nadal here a year ago and was a beaten semi-finalist in 2019.
The same surface is also used by Mexico’s other ATP event in Los Cabos where Norrie won in 2021.
The problem for him though is same as Alcaraz – he arrives straight off the clay and back-to-back finals in the past two weeks.
Given that, plus the presence of Matteo Berrettini and Holger Rune in his quarter, I can’t pull the trigger at 8/1.
Berrettini (11/2) is the man the market expects to reach the final, with Rune (13/2) and Casper Ruud (8/1) not far behind.
However, Berrettini hasn’t played since a first-round loss in the Australian Open, Rune was last seen limping out in Rotterdam, while Ruud hasn’t convinced at all so far in 2023, compiling a 2-3 record. He hasn’t played since Melbourne either.
Instead, I think ALEX DE MINAUR could do something and looks overpriced at 40/1.
His retrieving game is well suited to the sluggish surface and he’s done fairly well so far this season.
When last playing on outdoor hard he reached the last 16 of the Australian Open before running into Novak Djokovic on a very good day. More recently he’s been playing indoors, making the quarter-finals in Rotterdam, where he beat Andrey Rublev and Maxime Cressy before losing 7-6 in the third to Grigor Dimitrov – and Marseille.
He’ll be happier with the sun on his back and given he’s in the same quarter as Ruud, I feel he has a strong chance of at least making the last four.
Perhaps more semi-final heartache awaits but, at the price, I’m prepared to pay for that potential pleasure.
Movistar Chile Open
- Santiago, Chile (outdoor clay)
It’s 6/1 the field at a wide-open Chile Open this week, a tournament which brings the curtain down on the month-long ‘Golden Swing’ of claycourt events in South America.
After the dominance of Carlos Alcaraz and Cameron Norrie over the past fortnight – the pair reached the finals in both Rio and Buenos Aires – there will be a different winner on this occasion.
Perhaps it will be Sebastian Baez, champion at the opening tournament of this swing in Cordoba.
Given he made the final here 12 months ago and was also a quarter-finalist at the 500-level event in Rio last week, I’m sure he’ll have his backers, even at 6/1.
That said, it looks a bit short for my liking with plenty in this draw more than capable on the red dirt.
I can also say the same about Nicolas Jarry.
I had hoped to see the Chilean up at a double-figure price here after playing some impressive tennis in Rio last week.
He qualified there before beating both Lorenzo Musetti and Baez en route to last four where he managed to take a set off Alcaraz and pushed him very close.
Still, he’s in a tricky section of the draw here, one including defending champion Pedro Martinez and the in-form Bernabe Zapata Miralles (a semi-finalist in both Rio and Buenos Aires).
Jarry would likely meet one of those in the quarter-finals but before that he’ll have to get past Juan Pablo Varillas and Diego Schwartzman – Varillas was the other beaten Buenos Aires semi-finalist and as Peruvian would doubtless love to topple the home hope here.
It’s worth talking at this stage about conditions.
They will be considerably different to both Rio and Buenos Aries which were down at sea level.
This venue on the outskirts of Santiago is up in the foothills of the Andes and around 1,000m up.
That altitude factor has the potential to help Jarry’s serve which, when on, is a dangerous weapon.
Yet I still feel he’s too short at 7/1 and I’m instead happy to turn to an old favourite in ALBERT RAMOS-VINOLAS.
I know some of you will get that ‘stuck record’ feel here – I’ve often mentioned the Spaniard’s ability at altitude and indeed backed him in Cordoba earlier this month when he lost in the semis. Surprise, surprise.
But there’s little doubt he’ll enjoy conditions here, indeed he went to the last four of this tournament both last year and in 2020.
A look at his career finals also proves my point – seven of his 11 appearances have come in tournaments played at a significant altitude.
Such conditions make ball control key and can flummox some, especially the big-hitters, but Ramos-Vinolas is a master of this.
ARV is in the same quarter as top seed Musetti but the Italian has won just one of three matches since arriving in South America and also trails the pair’s head-to-head 2-1.
At 20/1, I can’t help but turn to a proven performer in these conditions, especially given the veteran may not have too many chances left to pocket such titles – while he’s certainly playing well at present at the age of 35, how much longer he remains at that level remains to be seen.
Let’s back him while we can.
Posted at 1900 GMT on 26/02/23
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